What do Jews, Quakers and biotech have in common? Jersey, of course, the setting for Michael Sheldon’s debut novel The Violet Crow. Private Detective Bruno X, a rough around the edges Yiddish trash talker with a sixth sense for murder, is called in to consult on an unsolved mystery at a small Quaker school in southern New Jersey. Peppered with its fair share of intrigue and romance, Crow plays in your head like a beautiful parody of a film noir, richly detailed in its hard boiled madness.
The refreshing aspect of Sheldon’s work is his ability to explore the nefarious results of politically correct thinking without ever getting political. Everything from GMO’s, to college philosophy, to the mainstream distrust of big business surfaces in Crow, weaving together an intriguing tale that never once reads as dry or preachy. Don’t be wary of Bruno’s telepathic powers, either. Far from the stuff of Mystic Meg, his Kabbalistic context adds a rich cultural flair that develops, not distracts, from Bruno’s distinctive character.
To be sure, Sheldon went out on a limb putting a psychic Jewish detective with a Borscht Belt sense of humor in the middle of a Quaker mystery in the Jersey pines. But the leap is refreshing and still quite believable. (Contrary to popular opinion, not all of us live in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.) The culture clash gives Sheldon’s characters the ability to play off of one another and develop naturally in the mind of the reader. Like walking into a bar, nothing is forced. This is Bruno’s party and you’re simply invited to play along.
A South Jersey native, Michael Sheldon has previously written the business memoir of investment pioneer George Russell, Success by Ten (Wiley, 2009), along with several articles on his other passion, photography, for PDN. Several of his short fiction pieces have been published at Liberty Island, including “Better Than Fresh Apricots,” “Dark and Stormy,” and “T.B.O.P. (The Beast of Philadelphia)”.
Released this week by Liberty Island, the folks who encourage you to “let your right brain run free,” The Violet Crow is the first in a promising detective series that hearkens back to the stylings of Edgar Award Winning mystery writers like William DeAndrea (Killed in the Ratings) and imaginative linguists like Rupert Holmes (Swing). If you like your mysteries populated with unique characters and thoughtful dialogue on contemporary issues, don’t miss out on the first in what is sure to be a landmark mystery series for the armchair detective crowd.